The peak of Mount Everest stands at 8,848 metres (29,029 feet) above sea level, making it the tallest mountain on Earth*. Over the years it has claimed many lives as people have attempted to reach the summit and one of these climbers is thought to haunt the slopes after he died in 1924.
In 1975 Dougal Haston and Doug Scot stated that they felt the presence of Andrew Irvine’s ghost on Mount Everest, that he stayed with them in a snow hole and boosted their confidence.
Andrew “Sandy” Irvine (Born 8 April 1902 – Died 8-9 June 1924) was a British mountaineer from Birkenhead. He took part in a university expedition to Spitzbergen in 1923 where he caught the attention of the geologist and mountaineer Noel Ewart Odell (Born 1890 – Died1987), who realised he had come across Irvine in 1919 at the summit of Foel Grach, a 3000-foot mountain in Wales. Irvine had ridden his motorbike up the mountain side, much to surprise of Odell and his wife who had walked up.Odell was the oxygen officer for the 1924 third British Mount Everest expedition and he recommended that Irvine join the team. Irvine’s climbing partner, who also perished with him was George Herbert Leigh Mallory (Born 18 June 1886 – Died 8-9 June 1924) a veteran of the previous two British expeditions to Everest. The pair disappeared on the North-East ridge attempting to make the final stages of the ascent and were last reported to have been seen by Odell just a few hundred metres from the summit. Odell climbed up from the North Col searching for Irvine and Mallory but he could not find them. If they had made it to the summit they would have been the first men to climb Mount Everest.
Irvine’s ice-axe was discovered nine years later Sir Percy Wyn-Harris (Born 1903 – Died 1979) at a height of 27,500 feet near the first step and it was assumed that this indicated that Irvine had fallen here. In 1979 Wang Hongbao reported seeing a body near the summit described as an “old English dead”, but he himself died before the exact location could given. In 1991 one of the oxygen cylinders used by Irvine and Mallory was found near the first step.
On 1 May 1999 Conrad Anker of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition discovered the preserved body of Mallory at a height of 26,760 feet on the North Face of Mount Everest (200ft below the first step). He was lying face down, with his head almost completely buried in scree. He had a golfball-sized puncture wound on his forehead (possibly caused by an ice axe). Mallory’s snow goggles were still in his pocket suggesting that he died at night. Given their known time table, this has led to speculation that they may have reached the summit and were descending late in the day when they died. Mallory had also taken a photograph of his wife with him to place at the summit. This photograph was not on his body even though it and his clothes were in a very good state of preservation.
It is thought that there are about 200 bodies scattered on Mount Everest. The body of Irvine has not yet been identified, though it has been suggested that the body reported by Wang Hongbao could have been that of Irvine and not Mallory.
“I don’t believe they made it … the climbing up there is so difficult and I think that Mallory was a very good climber and part of being a good climber is knowing when you’re at too much of a risk and it’s time to turn back. I think he saw that and he turned back and it was either he or Irvine as they were descending the Yellow Band slipped and pulled the other one off, the rope snapped and he came to his rest”. – Conrad Anker
Everest was conquered on 29 May 1953. The first confirmed climbers to each the summit of Mount Everest were Sir Edmund Percival Hillary (Born 20 July 1919 – Died 11 January 2008) (New Zealand) and sherpa Tenzing Norgay (Nepal) who were part of the ninth British Everest expedition.
*Or at least the mountain with its peak being the highest above sea level.